Each year doctors treat about 150,000 new cases of severe facial pain. If you're one of those people, you don't have to suffer—there are ways to gain relief from these painful episodes.
Those recurring episodes are known as trigeminal neuralgia (TN). As the name implies, the source of the pain are the trigeminal nerves, which originate in the brain stem and extend on either side of the face. Each is divided into three branches (hence the "tri" in trigeminal) that serve the upper, middle and lower parts of the face and jaw.
TN can involve one or more of these branches, resulting in mild to severe pain that can last for several seconds. Jaw movements like chewing or speaking can trigger an episode, as well as a light touch to the face.
There are various proposed causes for TN, including links with inflammatory disorders like multiple sclerosis, which damages the insulating sheathing around nerve cells. The most common cause, though, appears to be a blood vessel pressing against the nerve. The compression causes hypersensitivity in that area of the nerve so that it transmits pain at the slightest sensation.
Other conditions like jaw joint pain disorders (TMD) or a dental abscess can cause similar pain symptoms, so it's important to get an accurate diagnosis. If your doctor does identify your condition as TN, you may then need a comprehensive approach to treatment involving a team of care providers, including your dentist.
For the most part, TN can be managed, beginning with the most conservative approach to gain relief, often with medications to block the nerve's pain signals to the brain or decrease abnormal nerve firings. If that proves insufficient, though, more intensive treatments are available.
One possible treatment for an impinging blood vessel is a microsurgical procedure to expose the affected nerve and relocate the vessel. While this can be effective, the surgery does carry some risk of facial numbness or decreased hearing. If the risks are too high for conventional surgery, an alternative procedure uses a precise beam of high-dose radiation to relieve the pressure from the vessel.
The most important thing to know about TN, though, is that it is possible to control it and relieve future pain episodes. If you're experiencing these symptoms, see your dentist or doctor for an exam and accurate diagnosis.
If you would like more information on trigeminal neuralgia, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Trigeminal Neuralgia: A Nerve Disorder that Causes Facial Pain.”
As the host of America's Funniest Home Videos on ABC TV, Alfonso Ribeiro has witnessed plenty of unintentional physical comedy…or, as he puts it in an interview with Dear Doctor–Dentistry & Oral Health magazine, "When people do stuff and you're like, 'Dude, you just hurt yourself for no reason!'" So when he had his own dental dilemma, Alfonso was determined not to let it turn onto an "epic fail."
The television personality was in his thirties when a painful tooth infection flared up. Instead of ignoring the problem, he took care of it by visiting his dentist, who recommended a root canal procedure. "It's not like you wake up and go, 'Yay, I'm going to have my root canal today!'" he joked. "But once it's done, you couldn't be happier because the pain is gone and you're just smiling because you're no longer in pain!"
Alfonso's experience echoes that of many other people. The root canal procedure is designed to save an infected tooth that otherwise would probably be lost. The infection may start when harmful bacteria from the mouth create a small hole (called a cavity) in the tooth's surface. If left untreated, the decay bacteria continue to eat away at the tooth's structure. Eventually, they can reach the soft pulp tissue, which extends through branching spaces deep inside the tooth called root canals.
Once infection gets a foothold there, it's time for root canal treatment! In this procedure, the area is first numbed; next, a small hole is made in the tooth to give access to the pulp, which contains nerves and blood vessels. The diseased tissue is then carefully removed with tiny instruments, and the canals are disinfected to prevent bacteria from spreading. Finally, the tooth is sealed up to prevent re-infection. Following treatment, a crown (cap) is usually required to restore the tooth's full function and appearance.
Root canal treatment sometimes gets a bad rap from people who are unfamiliar with it, or have come across misinformation on the internet. The truth is, a root canal doesn't cause pain: It relieves pain! The alternatives—having the tooth pulled or leaving the infection untreated—are often much worse.
Having a tooth extracted and replaced can be costly and time consuming…yet a missing tooth that isn't replaced can cause problems for your oral health, nutrition and self-esteem. And an untreated infection doesn't just go away on its own—it continues to smolder in your body, potentially causing serious problems. So if you need a root canal, don't delay!
If you would like additional information on root canal treatment, please contact us or schedule a consultation. You can learn more by reading the Dear Doctor magazine articles “A Step-By-Step Guide to Root Canal Treatment” and “Root Canal Treatment: What You Need to Know.”
Dental implants have soared in popularity thanks to their life-likeness, functionality and durability. But these prized qualities have also created an ironic downside—people are much more likely to replace a tooth with an implant rather than go through the time and effort to preserve it.
We say downside because even though an implant is as close to a real tooth as we can now achieve in dentistry, it still can't rival the real thing. It's usually in your long-term health interest to save a tooth if reasonably possible. And, there are effective ways to do so.
Most dental problems arise from two common oral diseases. One is tooth decay, caused by contact with acid produced by bacteria living in dental plaque. We can often minimize the damage by treating the early cavities decay can create. But if we don't treat it in time, the decay can advance into the tooth's pulp chamber, putting the tooth in danger of loss.
We can intervene, though, using root canal therapy, in which we drill into the tooth to access its interior. We clean out the decayed tooth structure, remove the diseased pulp tissue and fill the empty chamber and root canals to seal the tooth and later crown it to further protect it from re-infection.
Periodontal (gum) disease also begins with bacteria, but in this case the infection is in the gum tissues. Over time the ensuing inflammation locks into battle with the plaque-fueled infection. This stalemate ultimately weakens gum attachment, the roots and supporting bone that can also increases risk for tooth loss.
We can stop a gum infection through a variety of techniques, all following a similar principle—completely removing any accumulated plaque and tartar from the teeth and gums. This stops the infection and starts the process of gum and bone healing.
You should be under no illusions that either of these approaches will be easy. Advanced tooth decay can be complex and often require the skills of an endodontist (a specialist in root canals). Likewise, gum disease may require surgical intervention. But even with these difficulties, it's usually worth it to your dental health to consider saving your tooth first before you replace it with an implant.
If you would like more information on how best to treat a problem tooth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Save a Tooth or Get an Implant?”
Tooth decay and developing bite problems could be major obstacles to your child's normal growth and development. Without good, preventive dental care at home and from the dentist, these obstacles could impact their health now and well into adulthood.
Here are 3 things you should do to help your child stay ahead of harmful dental problems.
Start daily hygiene early. To protect your child from tooth decay, you should begin cleaning their teeth and gums early, even before teeth appear. For your first hygiene efforts use a clean wet cloth to wipe their gums after feeding to reduce bacterial growth in the mouth. After teeth begin to erupt start brushing them with a fluoride toothpaste—a slight smear for infants and up to a pea-sized amount when they get older.
Keep sugar to a minimum. The bacteria that causes tooth decay thrive on sugar. To minimize bacterial growth, keep your child's sugar intake to a minimum by providing dental-friendly snacks and foods. Also, try to limit any sugar they eat to mealtimes rather than with snacking through the day. And avoid sending them to bed with a bottle filled with a sugary liquid (including formula and breastmilk).
Begin dental visits around age one. Dentists and pediatricians recommend regular dental visits for children starting around their first birthday. This increases the chances of detecting disease or bite problems early before too much damage occurs. Your dentist can also provide preventive measures like sealants or topical fluoride to reduce the risks of tooth decay. And early visits lessen the chance of your child developing dental visit anxiety, a phobia that could continue into adulthood.
As spring weather heats up, so do a lot of outdoor sports like baseball or soccer. Unfortunately, the chances of sports-related injuries increase as well. Your child’s mouth in particular is a prime target for injury—and you need to be prepared.
First and foremost, players should wear a mouthguard during contact sports to reduce their risk of injury. Mouthguards can absorb much of the force generated during impact—and may make the difference between minor bruising and a fractured or knocked-out tooth.
“Boil and bite” mouthguards available from the local pharmacy or sporting goods store are popular because of their cost and availability. These are softened in hot water before the wearer bites down to create a semi-customized fit. An even better option, though, is a custom mouthguard that is made from a precise impression of your child’s teeth that we take in our office. This type of mouthguard costs more, but it provides greater protection and comfort than one from your corner store.
A mouthguard can significantly reduce the risk of injury but won’t eliminate it entirely. If a dental injury does occur, you need to know what to do. This will depend mainly on the type of injury: If the tooth is chipped but not pushed out of position, you can collect any tooth fragments and see us within 12 hours for an examination and possible repairs. If the tooth has moved or is loose, you should see us even sooner—within 6 hours so we can readjust the tooth and, if needed, splint it until it is securely reattached.
A more serious injury is a tooth that has been knocked completely out of its socket. It can often be saved, but you’ll need to act quickly—optimally, within 5 minutes—by reinserting the tooth in its socket. Although it sounds daunting, it’s really a matter of a few simple steps: First, find the tooth and rinse off any debris with clean water. Holding it by the crown (the visible part you are used to seeing) insert the root end into the empty socket. If your placement isn’t “just right,” don’t worry; we can adjust it later, but it will require some pressure to place it in the socket. Have the person bite down on a piece of gauze or clean cloth to hold the tooth in place. Call us immediately. If you cannot reach us, go to an emergency room.
Quick action and prompt follow-up dental care after a mouth injury increase the chance of a happy outcome. Along with proper mouthguard protection, remembering these pointers will help ensure that your family has an enjoyable sports season this year!
If you would like more information about sports-related dental injuries, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. To learn more, read the Dear Doctor magazine articles “Athletic Mouthguards” and “The Field-Side Guide to Dental Injuries.”
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